Category: Business Advice

How We Paid Off Everything (But the Mortgage, Yet)!

robert

When my husband, Robert, and I got married, we each brought a substantial amount of debt into the marriage. For us it was a mortgage, a car loan, loans from each of our graduate school educations, and college loans for me. Luckily, we didn’t have any credit debt and we each had good credit histories and were responsible to pay our required payments each month. But we didn’t want to keep paying a large percentage of our incomes to debt every month endlessly. So we made a plan to get rid of all the debt (other than the mortgage) as soon as possible. We originally thought we could have all but the biggest loan paid off by September 2013 but instead we got all of it gone by that same month!

We were married in November 2011 and as soon as the dust had settled from the amazing wedding, the funky honeymoon (plans fell through on the way to our tropical vacation, so we had to settle for Texas) and the seasonal holidays in January 2012 we got to work paying down debt as fast as possible. We decided to strategize using the Financial Peace Method by Dave Ramsey. I had taken the course myself as a single woman in 2009 shortly after finishing graduate school. When we were married, I shared the course information with Robert and we decided to follow Dave’s methods.

While conservative, Dave’s Baby Steps do work. For debt payoff in Step Two, Dave encourages the snowball method which has you paying minimums on all your debts while throwing all extra money into the smallest debts (regardless of interest rates) one at a time till they are gone. This gives you a feeling of winning financially because it not only reduces your total debt burden each month but it also gives you something to celebrate on the short scale. We definitely recommend it because we were celebrating paying off small debts every few months instead of spending a year just going after a big one. Some would argue that the avalanche method (largest interests down in order) is better financially, but for us we just couldn’t beat the psychological pride and encouragement of accomplishing each goal and we believe our small successes spurred us to work harder and faster to be rid of all the debts. There is a study proving what we noticed too http://www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/news_articles/2012/snowball-approach.aspx.

How We Did It

Beyond coming up with a monthly budget each month, cash budgeting was the best thing we ever did. We didn’t even start cash budgeting till summer 2012, six months into our debt free journey. We had both been working and all of my income was going into our loans as we lived on a budget based solely on Robert’s income. But I was preparing to stay home with our soon-to-be-born son. Robert asked to try cash budgeting for one month. We attempted it and found we put more into debts on his one income than we’d ever done on two incomes. Even now, debt free with a baby, we still cash budget.

Our cash budget was pretty minimal because we delayed purchases that didn’t line up with our debt free focus. As newlyweds we didn’t go out and re-decorate the whole house no matter how much I wanted to do so. We didn’t buy a second car, I took the bus or we just arranged days for each to get the car. We avoided shopping as much as possible, even sales items add up. For example, ten purses at garage sales for $10/each is still $100 even if it’s not a single $100 purse. We made our wardrobes work for us as much as possible. There were countless other choices we made that helped us stay focused on our goal and focused goals succeed better than scattered ones.

Eating out of the pantry every few months helped really move the budget and debt snowball. Most homes in America have full freezers, fridges, and pantries and I learned to be an expert at meal planning from what we had. It’s become quite a cool skill actually, friends ask me to look at what they think has no meal possibilities and I can usually come up with 15-20 tasty and unique, but not weird, meal ideas out of food they have on hand.

We lived below our allotted cash budget as in we’d set a monthly cash budget each month for needs and small personal slush budgets but most months we’d stay well below that number so we could be debt free faster. But every few months if our below-budget number felt too small we could loosen back to the original goal mark and feel like it was a splurge (though a well set budgeted splurge).

Lots of conversations about money, debt, budgeting: Many marriages are made harder by troubles talking about money together. and now we feel like money-talk marriage professionals with each other. Before every month we’d sit down and plan/guesstimate unique budgeting for that upcoming month, this includes regular expenses (like this month we had a vacation, two baby showers, and the Washington State Fair I wanted to attend). We’d also check our food status to see if we could live out of the pantry and buy very little groceries that month. Then we’d determine our cash system from there and check all balances of savings, giving, debt payoff, retirement, etc.

On September 15th we sent the last big payment off thus closing the last of our accounts with Ford Motor Company (see Robert holding the title to our car that is now in our names), ACS Loans, and Sallie Mae! We’re not ready to go crazy with spending just yet though, since we still have more baby steps to complete on our path to financial independence but having the school and car debts gone is a big weight off our backs. We now own our own educations and our car, it is a great feeling. We are certainly grateful to the companies that loaned us money for school and the car but we are glad to say goodbye to them now too. We are two excited folks about the next step in our financial journey together!

***You can take Financial Peace University yourself too. In fact, we are teaching a local class that just started last week and still has room for more members and guests (http://www.daveramsey.com/fpu/locations/org/47172/class/240282/atid/m_mi) Even if you have different debt or more or less than us or a worse credit score or financial history, Financial Peace has tools for every situation to help you gain control of your finances.

Posted in Business Advice, Classes & Training, Services

Where Are They Now?

synthia

We’re taking a look back at some of the fabulous employees that have worked to make Cascade e-Commerce Solutions, Inc. the great place that it is, even if they have moved on to different positions and companies.

Synthia Melton

Synthia was an account marketing intern with us in the summer of 2004 after completing her freshman year at Western Washington University. She worked to help manage client accounts, assist with data entry, track marketing trends, and improve website design. The most important thing she learned in her time with CeSI was the importance of networking and marketing. She attended many business networking events and group meetings with Elizabeth Paulsen, like the Southwest King County Chamber of Commerce functions.

After returning to school at Western, Synthia graduated with a pre-law degree. Then, she went on to Seattle University for her Juris Doctorate. After law school, she worked with several different Seattle area law firms practicing criminal and immigration law, but found her passion in working with small businesses and helping them thrive.

Today, she is co-owner of the Renton-based law firm Dimension Law Group. Dimension Law Group is a minority owned firm that focuses on real estate, landlord-tenant, and bankruptcy law with a strong passion for working with small businesses. They specialize in helping people establish, structure, and incorporate new businesses while offering general counsel services to more established companies. Dimension Law Group also works with landlords and real estate investors to protect their investments, offering free rental forms and documents through the free landlord-tenant library on their website http://www.dimensionlaw.com. Dimension Law Group is located in South King County and offers a free 30-minute consultation to new clients.

We are very proud to have had Synthia on our team as long as we did. If you are looking for legal help in the South King County area, we recommend Synthia Melton and Dimension Law Group.

Stay tuned for more Where Are They Now bios in the months to come!

Posted in Business Advice, CeSI News, Services

No Time for the Business Plan

Video of Zev Siegl, Business Consultant“It happens to business owners all the time,” says independent consultant Zev Siegl. “The owner of a growing $500,000 business sees an opportunity to quickly become a $1 million company, but doesn’t have the resources to get there.”

What usually happens next, according to Siegl, is the owner figures out how much money she’s going to need in order to double sales … and asks her bank for a loan.

Banks are usually interested, but the lender wants to see a formal business plan and a financial forecast so he can understand more about how the company’s rapid growth is going to work. Apparently bankers don’t believe in “Just Go for It”.

That sets up a Catch-22, says Siegl. “Most owners of $500,000 companies are up to their eyeballs in work and have no time to write a well-organized plan. And the three-year forecast is even more impossible. But all lenders insist on both.”

There are three ways that business owners deal with this.
a. Bite the bullet and do the plan and the forecast themselves.
b. Get help from SCORE or from the SBDC and then do it themselves.
c. Hire a consultant to write the plan and do the forecast.

Siegl knows his a, b and c. As an entrepreneur in the 70s, 80s and 90s, he wrote plans that became real-live start-up companies, including Peerless Pie, Starbucks Coffee and Quartermaine Coffee Roasters.

As a full-time advisor for the SBDC network 2004-2012, he worked with 500 entrepreneurs and 100 of these wrote plans and did financial forecasts under his guidance.

Today, Siegl has a part-time private practice helping established and start-up companies with plans and forecasts. Among them are a meat processor, a fashion retailer, an $800,000/year software company and an ice cream manufacturer.

Note: The plan and the forecast are even harder to do if the business wants to sell stock to investors. It’s usually necessary to follow the rules for a Regulation D private equity offering exemption as spelled out by the Securities and Exchange Commission and by the Washington State Department of Securities.

Siegl clearly sees that there are two sides that don’t understand each other. “Entrepreneurs are busy people with too much to deal with and planning is way, way down their to-do list. Lenders and investors don’t buy that. They want the plan and they want the forecast. Without ‘em, there is no progress and no funding.”

Whether a business is seeking a loan from a bank or private lenders, Siegl can help the business owner keep on track with getting the documentation in order to secure funding. To contact Siegl, go to http://www.zevsiegl.com/contact-seattle-business-consultant-zev-siegl/.

Posted in Business Advice

Marketing with Facebook

Facebook Like
We support our clients in the use of Facebook as it is a very popular platform that can help build a larger customer base, increase sales and improve customer engagement and service. However, we do not recommend that they use it as their only Internet presence.

Some of our clients, such as Treasured Times Rubber Stamps & Scrapbooking with 158 likes, use Facebook to promote specific products and events and to share how their customers are using their products. However, these product-based business-to-consumer clients still use their website as their primary sales vehicle.

Others, such as Hammond Ashley Violins with 1,175 likes and SeaTacPark.com with 1,528 likes, use Facebook in more of a customer service manner. They respond to Facebook chat questions from customers and add posts that promote events and share tips. However, they rely on their website to organize the information that people seek through search because Facebook’s Graph Search function does not allow people to find them easily without knowing their company name. This is mainly because the volume of information on a website like www.hammondashley.com (such as unique pages for each instructor) is more than can be conveniently organized in Facebook.

The main barriers to using Facebook for a business’ ONLY web presence are that:

1) Facebook controls participation and content and can ban a business from its system without giving the business an explanation of the ban or the opportunity to petition for re-inclusion. (Jennifer Martin of www.MartinCorrespondence.com, tried to set up a Facebook page for her business plus some paid advertising. Within minutes of setting up her advertising account she was informed that Facebook believed the account had been compromised and they promptly locked her out of the program indefinitely. After submitting several forms of identification over a series of days they reinstated her business page but said she could never advertise with them. They also said the decision was final. To make matters more difficult in the entire encounter, she realized that Facebook has no Contact Us solutions and only redirect you to their message boards.)

2) Facebook controls the architecture of Facebook pages and can change this architecture whenever it chooses. So even though a business can set up custom tabs and pages in Facebook, these can be suddenly rearranged beyond usability. For example, several of our clients had implemented “Fan Reveal” pages so that when people first liked a page they would receive special content (for example, a special offer). These pages worked well to get more people engaged with a business’ Facebook page, but then when Facebook implemented its new timeline layout these custom pages were broken or the tabs (navigation buttons) for these custom pages were obscured to the point that people didn’t see them. This unpredictability of architecture makes businesses reluctant to spend time/money on custom interfaces that can be broken without recourse. However, because a website remains the property of the business regardless of hosting and domain name registration, businesses are willing to customize the pages on a website and for this reason, businesses with sophisticated options (such as online sales page, shopping carts or appointment request forms) place these functions in their website rather than on Facebook.

3) Facebook’s search function is still too undeveloped. For example, search “violin shop seattle” in Facebook and see that only one result appears even though there are many violin shops in and near Seattle that have Facebook pages. This is because Facebook doesn’t include a mapping function that can show businesses near Seattle and still lacks sophistication in how it displays search results.

When we work with clients we recommend that they first develop a fully functional and optimized website and then a regular email newsletter before they engage in Facebook and other strategies. And if a business is business to business rather than business to consumer business we often recommend that they set up an optimized LinkedIn page before setting up a Facebook page because LinkedIn is more specifically set up for business to business communications than is Facebook.

How has Facebook been an effective and ineffective tool for marketing your business?

Posted in Business Advice

Social Media Series: Part Five – Viral Videos

Social Media

We’ve decided to go ahead and add one more article to the Social Media marketing series and talk about the efficacy in using viral videos for marketing your business.  You can use this article as either a guide map to viral video making for businesses or just a fun break time activity and watch some videos we’ve linked.  First, let’s define viral video as an online video that gains massive popularity just through internet shares (ie: email forwards, Facebook, blog posts, etc).  Often these are pets doing crazy things, the sort of painful activities/silly pranks America’s Funniest Home Videos used to award $100,000 for, or flash mobs (groups of people that break out in song, dance, or other choreographed activity in a public place like a train station.  Some of our favorite viral videos are Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer selling Windows 1.0, Rapping Financial Planner, BlendTec blending an iPhone4, and Old Spice’s The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.

It’s obvious that consumers love to find and share great new viral videos.  But it’s not so obvious if consumers are swayed to buy anything based on a viral video. The 2010 AdWeek article, “Does Viral Pay”, states that, “In fact, the evidence is thin that any viral video, no matter how successful, is likely to convince consumers to buy a product.”  I know this is true for me as a consumer. Though I love BlendTec videos, I don’t plan to ever buy one of their tough blenders or an iPhone4 for that matter.  In fact, this CNN video discusses that only the musicians whose music is featured in videos that go viral make any money.  Even the famous and handsome Brad Pitt didn’t seem to do any favors for Chanel N°5 in his commercial, except to get a Saturday Night Live parody.

You Tube

If you even look at YouTube’s 2012 list of the top viral videos none of them come from a business selling a specific product.  But don’t let this stop you or your business from making a “viral video”.  Just don’t expect any video you create to go viral.  Instead make a video simply for your fans.  People can put a lot of work into a viral video or marketing a video, but you can’t force it to go viral.  Few who purposefully set out to make a viral video ever see it actually go viral. Instead companies/individuals make videos and then the fans take them viral!  The only person we know who can consistently make a video go viral now is Isaac Lamb; he seems to have figured out how to portray the magic formula of love via video.

Your company can still share its fun-loving, humorous personality with a video, even without expecting to make it go viral.  For instance, check out this funny “Harlem Shake” video from an office.  Don’t understand the Harlem Shake phenomenon? Neither do we exactly, but it is still fun to watch and this site defines it better than we can.

If you’re still interested in making a video for your company (that may or may not go viral) here are five helpful hints:

  1. Make it fun.  People are more likely to send and share a funny and interesting video than any other kind.
  2. Keep it short.  If you don’t know how to do this, ask someone you know who is good with computers if they can edit it down for you to a comfortable 10 seconds to 3 minutes maximum.  If they work for you, you should pay them to do this editing work.  If they don’t work for you, at least offer to pay them in cookies.
  3. Send it to everyone you know simply because you want to share it and then let them send it onto their friend’s if it is good enough.  Post it on your blog, Facebook account, website, etc.
  4. Don’t ask people to help you go viral. If your video is good enough, they will send it out on their own without you begging them to do so.
  5. Overall, don’t stress over a two minute silly video.  To every other viewer it is just something fun to potentially pass out, so why should you worry over it.  If you’re not having fun, no one else will with it.

In the end, enjoy viral success or just remember that one time you and your company made a funny and memorable video in an afternoon!

Find all Social Media Series posts here.

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Posted in Business Advice, Online Marketing

Social Media Series: Part Four – Twitter

Social Media

We are completing our series on Northwest Gold Coast exploring the potential that social media marketing may hold for your business.  We have discussed blogging, Facebook, and LinkedIn already.  This month we are finishing up with Twitter.  If you have questions about any of the social media outlets we’ve mentioned or if there’s another social media outlet you’d like to learn about, please let us at Cascade e-Commerce Solutions, Inc (CeSI) know at info@4cesi.com.

So…Twitter.  We were going to share about what is Twitter, to define some Twitter terms you’ve probably heard thrown around (#hashtag anyone?), and how to use Twitter best for your business when we realized that Twitter already has that information written out better than we ever could do.

One best practice we’d like to add is searching hashtags for tweets from people or business who could use your services.  For example, a plumbing company can search for tweets from people dealing with leaks or high water bills and respond to those people directly with helpful information, appointment setting, and more.  Or a travel agent can search for people looking for help planning their next vacation on a budget.

Twitter Screenshot

Since Twitter is always a running conversation it takes time and work to stay engaged with your fans as well as seek new ones.  If you’re too busy to set up or run a Twitter account yourself, CeSI can run the account for you.  Let CeSI know if we can be your social media bee today on Twitter or any other social media outlet at info@4cesi.com.

To summarize our Social Media series, social media is not the right step for every company.  Taking the time to learn about each of the options and which fits best for your business is worth the time and effort you can give.  You can use one social media outlet well and build a strong online profile along with your website, or you can use all of the social outlets but quality is the key.  No one wants their business to appear like a teenager finally allowed online and spamming everyone with chain letter forwards or photos.  CeSI can help you create and maintain a strong social presence for your business to help you stay up to date and connected as well as connecting with new clients all the time.

Find all Social Media Series posts here.

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Posted in Business Advice, Online Marketing

How to Be Happier Online in 2013

There are a million resolutions we can make every year, and we keep a few of them.  What does every resolution boil down to but having a happier, more effective year?  And since I spend most of my time online with email, article writing, research, blog reading, and social networking I want to aim most of my focus onto my life online.

Computer mouse

Below are my ideas for making myself happier this year online.  The best part, none of these ideas need to be completed all at once, but if you do want to tackle them one at a time early in the year the rest of 2013’s days will be simpler for you.

  1. Remove any toxic friendships on Facebook and Twitter.  This can be people you met once and never talked to again, people who are negative about life and reading their statuses brings you down every time, or people you’re not friends with anymore.  Why read status updates and let your Facebook wall or Twitter feed fill up with things that don’t bring you joy?  If you can’t bring yourself to defriend someone, at least hide their posts from your newsfeed.
  2. Clean out my Facebook groups and likes pages.  Now with companies being able to promote their own statuses by payment, I only want to see statuses from companies I admire and actually desire to keep up with, not just anyone.
  3. Clean out my Google Reader or other RSS feed.  If I grimace whenever a certain blogger that I used to love posts an update, I don’t need to read that blog anymore.  For example, sometimes I start following a bunch of organized home posts because I want my house to look perfect like Martha Stewart’s.  But over time, I start to feel bad every time I read these posts because my house looks nothing like this and I start to skip over new posts.  This year I’d rather spend my time cuddling my baby boy or reading Mommy blogs where love reigns even in a cluttered house than make myself feel bad.  Any blog that you no longer find fun or useful should be cut off your list.
  4. Clean out my inbox.  Delete as much as you can and create detailed folders where you can save important emails for future reference.  As soon as new junk email comes into your now empty inbox, unsubscribe from anything you don’t care about and watch your email situation continually improve!
  5. Store files on the cloud.  Instead of using flash drives or emailing yourself every time you change computers consider storing your documents, files, and photos on the cloud.  I use SkyDrive (a free Microsoft product) and Google Drive (another free product) myself.  There are plenty of options.
  6. Make banking easy with a one stop shop like mint.com.  We have all of our accounts- banking, retirement, loans, and mortgage connected along with our own tailored budget so we can check every month and any day to see how we’re doing.  Mint.com makes the graphs and charts for you that individuals used to spend hours creating like net worth, spending, and cost of living ratios.

And the easiest and yet hardest way to be happier online, is to get OFFLINE.  There’s a whole world out there of new friends to make, new recipes to try, new books to read, and new adventures and places to experience!  No one ever ends a year wishing they had spent more time on the internet.

Posted in Business Advice

Social Media Series: Part Three – LinkedIn

Social Media

We are moving forward with our series on Northwest Gold Coast exploring the potential that social media marketing may hold for your business.  This month, we are looking at the usefulness of LinkedIn for your company.  Next month we will be finishing up with Twitter.  If there’s another social media outlet you’re interested in learning more about let us at Cascade e-Commerce Solutions, Inc (CeSI) know by emailing info@4cesi.com.

LinkedIn is an interesting form of social media for business because it is made for individuals.  So instead of making a company profile like those on Facebook or a blog, you make a profile regarding yourself as owner, executive or employee and you can encourage each of your employees to create their own pages too.  LinkedIn is a social networking tool for business professionals.  It allows you to list your education, previous jobs/businesses, skills, and connections and resembles an online resume.   Here is CeSI President Elizabeth Paulsen’s LinkedIn profile if you want to see an example and even connect with her: http://www.linkedin.com/in/elizabethapaulsen.

LinkedIn Profile

It is an especially strong tool if you are trying to keep up connections with previous employers and coworkers and is useful when you’re trying to establish yourself in a network of similar companies or find business mentors.  There is even a feature on LinkedIn that lets others endorse you for skills listed on your resume.  For example, I received a few endorsements recently for my Clinical Research and Case Management skills.  This can show not only potential new customers and even employers that I have references for what I list on my resume.

You can link your personal or staff profiles on your website where clients can read details about you that would be too lengthy for your businesses web page.  It can give you room to dialogue with interested parties, you can start or join groups of likeminded owners or employees, and you can improve yourself and your company by seeking out mentors in your field.  LinkedIn is truly an online networking program that opens numerous channels for business growth both in development and in clientele.

LinkedIn is one of the easiest social media marketing strategies to set up and maintain.  If you simply take time to set up a profile and make a few connections over an hour, then maintenance is just about once a month.  LinkedIn can notify via email you when new connections are made (like old coworkers wanting to link to you) so you don’t have to check it every day or week.  And spending time every six months to make sure your profile is up-to-date is generally enough unless you or your company are adding new skills/strategies more often than that.

If you have a LinkedIn page you want linked on your company’s website or need help setting up LinkedIn pages for you and your team don’t hesitate to call CeSI today at 206-244-9092!

Find all Social Media Series posts here.

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Posted in Business Advice

Social Media Series: Part Two – Facebook

Social Media

We are continuing our series on Northwest Gold Coast exploring the potential that social media marketing may hold for your business.  This month, we are looking at the efficacy of free Facebook marketing for your company.  In the months to come we will also be discussing LinkedIn and Twitter.  If there’s another social media outlet you’re interested in learning more about let us know at Cascade e-Commerce Solutions, Inc (CeSI).

At Cascade e-Commerce Solutions, Inc. (CeSI) we think it is wise for every company to reserve a Facebook page for their business.  This way no one else can use your name, similar to setting aside a domain name for your business.  We don’t think every company needs to utilize that Facebook page though once they have preserved it for themselves.  For example, a company selling only pens and pencils may not be a top choice for Facebook since there is little creativity or design coming out in the pencil/pen world (let us know if we’re wrong there!) and there is not a big fan base for them though there is a consistent need for the products.

An artist or an auto repair shop would be a different story.  The artist can share photos or inspiration behind their latest project, even as it is still in the works.  They can check in with fans to let them know when their next gallery opening will be or where they’ll be speaking next.  The auto body shop can discuss a beautiful vintage car they’re working on currently or how to do simple repairs at home.  They can also engage with fans on an individual level about when to call the shop for help and when you’re okay on your own at your home garage.  Facebook is a great place for businesses like these listed earlier and maybe for your company too.  Any business can also list special deals, offerings, sales on Facebook.

If you have even an inkling that Facebook marketing may be a great fit for your company, don’t hesitate to call CeSI today at 206-244-9092 to discuss it and even get your page set up and optimized!

Facebook Screenshot

A client we feel is effectively utilizing Facebook marketing already is http://www.seatacpark.com/.  Check out their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/SeaTacPark.  They work to keep their fan base growing and always updated on deals like sports event parking, holiday specials, etc.  Their fans also share reviews and experiences with SeaTacPark.com with their own Facebook friends as well as on SeaTacPark.com’s page.

If you’re becoming more convinced that Facebook marketing is a strong fit for your business model, there are a few pointers we’d like to share with you.

  1. After reserving your Facebook business page, fill out everything you can. This means making sure that your About Page has content (a great place for your company’s start up story), making sure you post a few photos right away (even just starting with a staff photo and street level photo of your office if relevant), and sharing a first welcome post on your Wall.
  2. Invite fans to “Like” your new Facebook page.  Using email distribution lists, searching for regular customers on Facebook, and posting a Facebook link on your webpage are great ways to accomplish this step.
  3. Update your page on a regular basis.  Post links to your blog posts, share a photo of a new project you’re working on, a new staff hire profile, a link to a special deal, a funny story, quote or question. You could even ask fans for a staff lunch restaurant suggestion. The more interaction, the better. When you post, you’ll stay in your fans’ radar and keep them up-to-date on exciting activity in your business. We recommend posting something new on your Wall at least once a week. If you have content to share on a more frequent basis, by all means go ahead and share it.  Just take care not to be spamming your fans by filling their entire Facebook homepages with only your content.  Once again we think that SeaTacPark.com sets a good example and you can see that they post something on Facebook page nearly everyday.
  4. Invite fans to give recommendations and reviews. You can even ask questions on their Facebook pages that link to your Wall.  Even if these aren’t always the most glowing reviews, Facebook provides a great place to address any problems and concerns they may have had with your service/product.  Other viewers can see how you listen to customers and even take their feedback and ideas and use it to make things better.  For example, my sister recently asked Safeway’s Facebook page when pomegranates would be in season and for sale at her local store-don’t you know they were happy to respond to her and she will consistently buy her pomegranates from Safeway every following season!
  5. Keep updating and growing your fan base.  When you get new customers you can ask them if they use Facebook and use their email addresses to look them up and see if they would “Like” your page.  We’ve seen businesses grow their fan base by sometimes offering a special deal or prize when they hit 100, 1000, or more fans on Facebook.  My husband and I are both Facebook fans of a clothing shop in Oklahoma that we have never been to before because we won a free soda simply by being the first fans to comment after they hit 1000 fans total.  It was totally worth it to us and we still enjoy seeing what that boutique is selling and if we ever visit Oklahoma again, we’ll definitely check out the store in real life!

Thinking that Facebook marketing may be the next step in your outreach strategies?  Have more questions about Facebook marketing?  Want to get involved in Facebook but don’t have the time to do it yourself?

Contact Elizabeth@4cesi.com today or call CeSI at 206-244-9092 today to get started!

Find all Social Media Series posts here.

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Posted in Business Advice, Online Marketing

Is Yext’s Power Listing Pricing Worth It?

Yext

Yext is a New York City-based company that provides a service that can help businesses manage their listings in online business directories. So is it worth paying $499 a year?

The short answer is no.  Based on research of Yext’s claims, Yext.com’s actual network, and review of our client’s web traffic results and search engine ranking positions, we believe that the listings they place:

  • Do not boost page rank in the major search engines.
  • Do not produce a significant amount of visits to the business’ website.
  • Are not owner verified and therefore are not valued as highly by Google or the actual websites as if they had been owner verified.
  • Are actually pay for inclusion listings which means that once you stop paying the annual fee, only the business’ name, address, phone (NAP) and categories remain on those listings.  Additional information such as photos and text descriptions disappear and tracking and the ability to update information easily also is lost.
  • Sometimes result in duplicate listings on the websites that are difficult to remove/correct.

Yext.com’s free scan is a nice diagnostic tool in that it lists whether a business has listings in the websites in their network and whether the NAP information is consistent across those listings.  However, once a business has used the free scan, they can expect a high pressure sales call from Yext.  And the bottom line is that the cost for the service outweighs the benefits.

The better strategy is to claim (owner verify) each of the free listings directly with each of the websites and then to optimize each listing according to the rules of each website.

CeSI has evaluated each website in the Yext network and has identified those that have value as incoming links.  CeSI conducts the process of claiming and optimizing each value-added listing.  However, rather than charge an annual fee, the cost for this service is included in the monthly ongoing optimization and reporting service.  The service also includes support for monitoring local listings via Google Alerts for the business’ name and brand related keywords.

For more visit:

http://blumenthals.com/blog/2012/03/01/yext-local-seo/
http://www.davidmihm.com/blog/seo-industry/yext-local-marketing/
http://www.4cesi.com/seo.php

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Turning Hobbies Into Strong Businesses

Jody Stacy had a home hobby in which her husband crafted wood products that she hand painted in primitive and Americana style art and then put up for sale.  Initially, she used her own designs and then over time she developed relationships with other artists and added their designs to wood products and to pottery items.

Canisters painted for Adorable Country Classics

In 2003 she turned this passion into an e-commerce company, Adorable Country Classics.   She developed relationships with other creators of primitive and Americana style home decor that complemented the work that she created and she added these lines to her business.

Today the business sells a large variety of beautiful primitive and Americana style home decor for every room of the home.

Initially business started small.  Jody states, “It didn’t really take off until I signed up with Cascade e-Commerce Solutions, Inc (CeSI).”  CeSI performed keyword research to help her identify the products that were most likely to sell online.  Then CeSI rebuilt the website and optimized it to help it secure higher natural search ranking positions.  Jody then added more products to the website.  Subsequently the business experienced growth in both its customer base and sales.

Card made with stamp from Treasured TimesIn 2011 Jody realized that if the artwork of a primitive artist were to be converted into a line drawing and then converted into a rubber stamp, other people could use the stamp to create their own items with primitive art designs.  She teamed up with artist, Terrye French, and developed a new line of rubber stamps.  She tested the market with a Blogspot blog and then given her success with turning one hobby into a business, Jody decided to convert her scrapbooking hobby and new line of rubber stamps into a fully developed business she named Treasured Times Rubber Stamps.

Then Jody brainstormed whether the next step was to open a retail store for her businesses or whether to go full out online with the second business.  As she was pondering her options she asked friends and associates for input via email, Facebook and phone.

CeSI responded to her questions with a suggestion to contact her local Small Business Development Center counselor because CeSI had found its SBDC counselor to be a tremendous help in developing its growth strategies.

Jody met with Elaine Jones, elaine.jones@wsbdc.org, of the Washington State Small Business Development Center.   Elaine works in one of the 24 of these offices around the State of Washington that provide services at no cost to small business owners.

Elaine encouraged Jody to move forward with a full blown website for the new business, Treasured Times Rubber Stamps & Scrapbooking.  Jody secured the domain name treasuredtimesrubberstamps.com  and contracted with CeSI to provide the same services as previously provided to Adorable Country Classics.

She says, “I went with CeSI again because they are nice people to work with. They listen to what you want and need out of your website. They’re very easy to work with and get along with.”

Made with rubber stamp from Treasured TimesWith her passion for country crafts and stamps as well as her developing business acumen, Treasured Times Rubber Stamps was poised for success before it even opened.  In fact, her stamps sold internationally the day after the online store went live (all the way to Italy!).  She offers wholesale and retail and is a big hit in the crafting community already.  Jody has a special ability to not only sell beautiful specialty items but to also offer free advice and information for those interested in her crafts.  Check out her “Learn” page at Treasured Times website to get answers to common stamping questions.

Jody also keeps a blog for each company as well as a Facebook page showing her personalized work and projects and helping her to keep up with fans and clients.

Jody is excited to see Treasured Times grow and wants to do all she can to ensure that happens with the help of Cascade e-Commerce Solutions, Inc. and Elaine and the Small Business Development Center.

This is an especially exciting time for Jody as she prepares to hire her first employee.  She’s also been approached by two painting pattern designers to begin working to turn their designs into rubber stamps!  With the gift giving season approaching Jody’s businesses are perfect places to look for one of a kind presents for those you love.  For more information check out the links below:

Adorable Country Classics Home Decor & Gifts:
Website | Blog | Facebook | Pinterest | Twitter

Treasured Times Rubber Stamps & Scrapbooking:
Website | Blog | Facebook

You can also phone Jody at 253-579-7623 to learn more.

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Social Media Series: Part One – Blogging

Social Media

We will be launching a series on Northwest Gold Coast exploring the potential impact social media marketing may hold for your business. In this edition, we’ll explore whether social media marketing is the right step for your business. Then we’ll branch out by starting with blogging for business and in later months go onto Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. If there’s another social media outlet you’re interested in learning more about let us, at Cascade e-Commerce Solutions, Inc (CeSI), know at info@4cesi.com.

It seems like every business these days has heard something about the term “social media” and things like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Blogs, etc. You’re probably hearing from everyone that every company needs to have a Facebook page or every team needs a social bee running their Twitter page. While these pathways can help build your client numbers, strengthen ties with your current client base, and even bring in new money, it doesn’t mean every company is going to find value in investing time and money into marketing in social media.

Here are a few questions to ask when considering whether social media marketing is right for you and/or your business.

Do you or does someone on your team:

  • Have a teaching personality?
  • Love to share information regarding your trade or products just for the sake of the information alone and not just to make a sale or deal?
  • Have enough passion about your business niche, products or services to get others as interested as you?
  • Enjoy helping build a community of people with common interests?
  • Have personal stories to share related to the common interest?
  • Enjoy engaging with others on those topics and on your history?
  • Have or can develop original photos or graphics regarding the common interest that you can share the community/public?
  • Enjoy sharing those stories, info, and pictures without expectation of compensation from the community?

These are just 8 questions to ask yourself as you approach the realm of social media. If you answered yes to 2 or less, social media is probably not the next big marketing step for you or your business.

If you answered yes to 3 or more, you need to decide if it’s in your time or budget to do social media and to even start asking your clients if they would be interested in following you through this path for extra marketing.

If you answered yes to 5 or more, you need to look into social media as soon as possible and determine which social media outlets are best for your company. No business has to be on top of all of the outlets; just like no individual, even the most social 15 year old, is normally using all of them every day all the time.

If you’re already convinced you need to explore social media with your business or intrigued enough to ask more, email info@4cesi.com today!


Blogging

Blogging is the best place for a business to share their stories. Fans and customers love stories about how a business owner opened his storefront in the first place. Was it a family business handed down from Uncle Lou or did you make a career switch from software engineer to cupcake designer? They want to engage with local companies on stories and issues that capture their hearts. They want to hear how your one-hour-or-less-oil-change-service got this mother of four back to grocery shopping, three birthday parties, and swimming lessons faster than anyone else’s service. Blogging is the place to share these stories, including testimonials.

A blog is also the perfect place to share information and passion with your customers on a large scale level. John Sullivan’s Blog on Olympic Landscape and Irrigation Company is a great example of this. John is the lead designer at the company and his blog shares tips on when to plant, how to color arrange your yard, etc. This is free information that allows readers to either do the work themselves entirely, to call Olympic Landscaping for all of the work after using the blog for ideas, or to tag team the project with Olympic Landscaping by doing what they can by hand and hiring Olympic Landscaping for their specialized expertise and training. John doesn’t make money off of the blog but he shares his love for landscape design with the blog’s readers and customers. The tone and quality of the blog lets people know that Olympic Landscaping is a business that has a passionate and educated team.

Does the idea of starting a blog appeal to you and your business plan? Call CeSI right away to get a blog set up that can be optimized for the search engines and increase your client base and sales!

Find all Social Media Series posts here.

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Watching Salmon Jump the Fish Ladders to Spawn Is a Good Reminder of Looking For Work in Tough Times

Robert and I went to a salmon hatchery recently to watch the salmon jumping the fish ladders on their way to spawn.  To refresh your high school biology lessons; salmon start their lives in freshwater, move to the saltwater of the sea, and then return home to the freshwater to lay their eggs and start the next generation off.  To get back to their birthplace the salmon must swim upstream and battle the elements going against the flow of natural water ways.  At salmon hatcheries, fish ladders are set up imitate the upstream battle.  To quote Wikipedia, “Most fishways enable fish to pass around the barriers by swimming and leaping up a series of relatively low steps (hence the term ladder) into the waters on the other side.”

Salmon Ladder

Watching the salmon force their way up the ladder and sometimes failing was a challenging lesson for me when thinking about the job market in this economy.  But what showed the salmons’ strength best was their persistence.  These salmon jump and jump and jump, and at best make it up one “relatively low step” at a time slowly, very slowly.  How similar is that to a recent grad (be it high school, college, grad school, etc.) who is on their way to success and showing persistence, even if it’s slow growth at low steps, one by one?

Even if the recent grad feels like their failing since they’re not getting their dream job straight out of school or even 2-5 years later, in the eyes of outsiders their persistence shows they’re never failing.  Instead, they’re moving up their own sort of fish ladder one step at a time and well on their way to their goal!

The economy hasn’t made it easy.  Since finishing graduate school, I have spent what totals to one full year without work, and was on unemployment for five of those months.  I have worked temporary jobs, contract jobs, part-time jobs, seasonal work, and been without insurance most of the time.  My longest job since graduate school was only 14 months so far.  I’m still on the lookout for great internships, even unpaid. But still I am working or at least trying to work towards my own personal goals.  I am still climbing my own fish ladder slowly but surely.

Two of my favorite bloggers recently detailed all the jobs they have worked and now that one is a therapist and one is a professional financial blogger, the old jobs seem funny.  And yet, each job slowly taught them new skills that led to them meeting their career goals.  Check out their personal career stories and foibles here at http://blogs.babble.com/babble-voices/roadside-assistance-kristen-howerton/2012/10/15/what-is-the-weirdest-job-youve-ever-had/  and http://www.budgetsaresexy.com/2012/10/all-30-jobs-ive-ever-done/

To Keep Climbing Your Fish Ladder

  1. Tell everyone you know that you’re looking for work. Use Facebook, email, LinkedIn, etc to stay connected, up to date, and on the lookout.  For example, my mother-in-law connected me with my last job.
  2. Work hard at whatever job you have for that season.
  3. Stay up to date and always be learning.  Your resume and cover letter are only the first step. Put more work into developing yourself than developing papers/email that usually only screeners view.  If you’ve been unemployed for a while or even underemployed take time to develop yourself.  Interviewers want to know how you learned customer service skills at Party City seasonal work, not that you finished every video game in your house.
  4. Watch your bitterness.  It’s okay to complain to friends privately, but those offering jobs don’t want to hear it.  You’re not the only person affected by the economy.  And if they can find bitterness even on your social media outlets, they don’t see a willing, confident, and able worker.
  5. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming as Dory of Finding Nemo would say.  You’re in the fish ladder, keep jumping and swimming and moving forward!
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YELP for Help Choosing Where to do Business

Ever wanted to go somewhere new for dinner? Or needed a new drycleaners since your old favorite moved to New Jersey?  Or was wondering what local store sells your favorite foreign candy bar?  Or out trying a new restaurant with a friend and don’t know what dish to order?

Yelp.com screenshot

Try Yelp.com for help in these tough situations.  On Yelp.com you can search through any zip code, city, or region for whatever you would like; a new salon, Aero Bars (my favorite international candy bar), soup dumplings, even tourist destinations. There you can read reviews from other locals or people travelling through and see whether they recommend the joint, what stylist to ask for, what dish to eat.   There is also basic information about the businesses like website, address, hours, price range, whether they are good for kids, and other useful things to know.

One piece of advice my husband, Robert, always throws in when using Yelp or sharing our love of it with others is to watch out if every review is perfect and glowing!  We’d rather eat at a restaurant that sometimes gives some customers slow service than a restaurant where everything is perfect. If every review is heavenly, it usually makes you feel like the staff and managers are writing all their own reviews.  It’s okay if not everyone finds the book they wanted at a bookstore, that happens. Sometimes there is a spill on a grocery store floor that isn’t cleaned up before any customers notice it. A good business always feels a lot more comfortable to visit than a Stepford Wives sort of place.

BUSINESS OWNERS-

On another note, CeSI does not recommend paid advertising on Yelp.com because Yelp sells an advertising spot to a business in a specific geographic and industry niche and places the ad in rotation with other businesses in the same exact geographic and industry niche.  The end result our customers have seen on Yelp.com is that their business gets fewer web visits for a paid position than they do for a free listing.  Also, according to the Better Business Bureau Yelp has 500 complaints closed in the last 3 years.  315 of these closed in the last 12 months which is not considered a strong record.

This is not to say businesses should shy away from Yelp; instead, we recommend a free listing.  Claim your business for free at https://biz.yelp.com/claiming. This way you can help customers to find your business when searching by keywords in your area. You can also interact with customers and deal directly with happy reviews or those that aren’t quite perfect. We love to see business owners who address issues and even positivity online on Yelp.

Have you found a favorite new business on Yelp? Is your business listed for free on Yelp already?

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Is It Time To Go Mobile?

Smart baby

With cell phones in the hands of kindergartners these days and the massive move to Smart Phones, business owners are starting to question if their websites need to go mobile too. Even if owners and employees aren’t using the latest technologies it doesn’t stop their clients from using mobile technologies to research businesses, look up addresses, or make an order. There are a few simple questions to ask yourself as you decide whether it is time to go mobile:

  1. Review your website’s traffic statistics. Google Analytics states how many of your web visits are from computers and how many are from mobile devices. Some businesses find that their site has a lot of mobile activity, whereas others have little.
  2. Review your website (and competitor sites) through several mobile devices. How does your site look on an iPhone, Android, etc.? Is it readable? Can you tell at a glance what the business does/offers? Can you click to call or email? Can you view pages without having to zoom or scroll constantly?
  3. Review feedback from web visitors and customers. Have customers asked for a mobile site? For every one person that contacts you on an issue/question, six others are thinking it also and just not communicating.
  4. Get feedback from your staff. Are there functions that would be simplified or expedited with a more friendly mobile presence?

So Once We’ve Decided We Need a Better Mobile Presence, Now What?

Determine Whether You Need an App or a Mobile-Friendly Website.

  • An App (application) requires a software download by the customer to the handheld device. An app is necessary when all or part of the performance of a process is to be supported directly on the handheld device; examples are games, calendar systems, and contact management systems. An app also streamlines the access to web based systems such as social media systems. Creation of an app requires specific programming for each type device you want using it.
  • A Mobile Friendly Mini-Website is just a website that behaves nicely on a mobile device. Typically the layout and content is simpler than a website that has been designed for reading on a PC or laptop. A mobile website is preferred when the functions to be supported do not require significant processing on the mobile device. Examples include providing basic information, maps & directions, form requests, and orders. Creation of a mobile friendly mini-website is typically less expensive than the creation of an app because the programming expertise is more general – HTML, PHP, CSS, etc.

If you are interested in learning more about going mobile, contact us at info@4cesi.com.

Also read Why You’ll Want a Mobile Site if You Plan to Keep Up With the Competition for more tips and information to consider if you’re thinking of going mobile.

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20 Ways to Keep Search Engines from Listing Your Website

The Internet

In my years of optimizing websites for the search engines, I’ve often been called in to remedy business websites that have had disastrous results in the search engines. In each case a prior SEO service provider had employed abusive and/or neglectful strategies.

20 of these abuses and neglectful practices are listed below.

  1. The first thing on the home page is a link to someone elsew’s web site.
  2. A competitor’s website is inappropriately optimized for the business’ name and trademarked names.
  3. The web pages include hidden text (text that is in the same color as the web page background color).
  4. The web pages include hidden links (such as links from unseen graphics).
  5. The web pages have many identical web pages with different web addresses or page names.
  6. The site is built in frames without implementation of proper code.
  7. The home page is a Flash sequence with no text for the search engines.
  8. Every web page name includes lots of code language such as “&” (ampersands), “?” (question marks) and “=” (equals signs).
  9. Keyword phrases are based on guessing what people search for rather than on what keywords are actually used by searchers.
  10. Web pages have no original text (text is copied from other websites)
  11. Important text is placed into graphics.
  12. The web pages have no metatags.
  13. The same metatags are incorporated into every web page.
  14. The site’s text hasn’t been updated in years.
  15. The site’s code doesn’t meet current international standards.
  16. The navigation links are different on every page.
  17. There is no single web page that lists links to all the website’s pages.
  18. The navigation takes visitors forward to lots of dead ends with no ability to link back.
  19. The web pages include many links to missing pages and graphics.
  20. The site uses free sub-domain hosting, which even if disguised with redirects can harm your search presence.

In many cases, the business’ leadership doesn’t know these abusive and neglectful strategies have been employed. However, those businesses that have allowed me to remove these strategies and employ proven, ethical strategies which have experienced very positive results.

If you suspect that your site may suffer from these abusive or neglectful strategies please email us at info@4cesi.com.

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Roles Found in Successful Businesses

Business Team

While every business is unique, successful businesses are built with the support of the following roles.

  1. The optimist – On a daily basis this individual envisions and speaks of success and exhorts others to do the same. This individual’s optimism is so strong that it is contagious. Staff, prospects and vendors all have an opportunity to “catch” this individual’s optimism for the business.
  2. The relationship builder – This individual gives the business its face or personality. Communications between this individual and prospects, customers, vendors and/or affiliates are genuine and substantive – more than casual schmoozing.
  3. The inventor – This individual plans, builds or creates services and/or products that distinguish the business from its competition.
  4. The pragmatist – This individual assures that the practical aspects of the business are carried out on time – bills (including taxes) are paid, governmental requirements are fulfilled, marketing attracts prospects, prospects are secured as customers, customers are served, receivables are received, etc.
  5. The sage – Typically, this individual is short on words and long on insight. This individual is often the one who realizes that no one person can be all of the above and so this individual advises the organization to find strategic relationships with vendors, affiliates and mentors who can fulfill the roles not filled by the principals of the organization.

Each of these roles must work in balance and harmony with the other roles. In the case of a very small business, one person may fulfill several roles (but typically can not fulfill all roles). In the case of a large business, each role may require the coordinated effort of hundreds of people. In both small and large businesses, mutual respect and encouragement across the roles help create an environment in which all staff and associates can excel.

Every business will experience episodes when the roles are not being fulfilled in a balanced way. The optimist may become temporarily melancholy, the sage may have a lapse in judgment, etc.

These episodes can be weathered with the help of planning, mutual respect and good humor. Planning must involve training individuals to step into new roles so that other individuals can take vacations or leaves of absence to rest and restore.
Mutual respect and good humor alleviate tension through the unstable period, provide a platform for creative problem solving and buy the time needed to implement practical solutions.

It is easy to recognize businesses that keep these roles in balance. They are the businesses we enjoy having as employers, vendors, associates and customers. They are positive, forward thinking and successful over the long haul. They are the role models we want to emulate and the businesses we need to keep in our community. Seeking them out and learning from them is a refreshing and healthy experience.

If you know a local business that keeps these roles in balance, please let us know. We would be happy to interview them for an upcoming article!

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Are You a Facebook Junkie?

The call goes something like this.

“Elizabeth, this is Joe. I have a question for you. Are you a Facebook Junkie?”

Silent pause. Private thought… junkie… addict…habit… Hmmm, I check Facebook several times a day. It has become a habit like washing my face and brushing my teeth. The answer…

“Yes, I am!”

“I’ve got Chad here with me. Can you help him get our company logo with a link to our company in his personal Facebook?”

“Yes, I’ll look into what is needed and get back to you with the details.”

The call ends. Note: The company has seven retail locations and one of these is also the corporate office and Joe owns/manages one of the retail locations.

First, I login to Facebook and do a search for the company’s name. Oh boy… Many related results pop up, but none are the right one. The first one shows the corporate logo, but incorrectly identifies the listing as a personal page and the logo is in the place of a profile picture. This means that the company’s employees can’t connect to it properly. The second one has no logo, but correctly identifies the listing as a local business page, but represents another one of the seven retail locations associated with the business. The third one actually is a company page, but represents yet another one of the seven retail locations. The fourth is a community page with 8 “Likes”. Next come several personal employee pages that have linked to the community page. The community page has no information and was auto-generated when the employees identified the business as their employer on their personal pages without linking to a properly made page.

I email Joe and recommend that he have one of his staff set up a new page that would be a local business page for his retail location.

How to: Anyone in his office who has a valid personal Facebook account could set up a local business page by logging into a personal Facebook account and clickng to their “Profile” page and scrolling to page bottom and clicking on “Create a Page” and choosing “Local Business or Place” and then following the wizard that Facebook supplies.

I also recommend that someone from the corporate office set up a “Company, Organization or Institution” page for the main office and include a text description that identifies all seven retail locations.

Once these pages are made, the administrator for each page can add proper logos and company information including a link to each associated website.

How to: Each employee can click “Edit Profile” and update his/her “Education and Work” section to show the relationship to the local retail local business page and to the corporate organization’s company page.

The advantage of using a “Local Business or Place” page for each retail location is that this page type allows other Facebook members to “Check” in to each location separately. Whereas using the “Company, Organization or Institution” page for the corporate location supports branding across the whole organization.

As a next step the business could set up a “Brand or Product” page for each unique brand or product or service that the business carries. These pages would allow customers and clients to communicate with the business and one another regarding those specific brands or products.

As a Facebook Junkie and a consumer, I appreciate when a business uses the Facebook page types correctly. It helps me connect with businesses in the ways that I want to connect with them and it makes me think of them more highly. This in turn makes me more likely to buy from them.

About the author

Elizabeth Paulsen elizabeth@4cesi.com has been providing Internet marketing strategy advice and services to small businesses for over ten years.

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Google AdWords to the Rescue

Google's AdWords

In this day and age the internet is quite the crowded place. With so many different outlets all vying for attention, marketing space, and customers; it’s a wonder how anyone is capable of successfully competing on the web. However, there is a product that makes it possible for anyone to compete on the web regardless of budget size. That product is known as Google AdWords and it is bringing small businesses everywhere to forefront of their niche market on the web.

Google AdWords is an advertising product that advertisers can use to display ads on Google Search, Google Search Network, and Google Display Network and can be targeted on a local, national, and international level. For clarification, Google Search is the search you know and love on Google.com, the Search Network comprises all of Google Search Partners such as Ask.com and AOL Search, and the Display Network is Google’s vast network of affiliated sites that host Google ads such as YouTube.com, Gmail, and over one million web, video, gaming, and mobile sites. This enormous platform reaches over 80% of internet users in North America alone and more than 60% of internet users around the world!

One of the reasons Google AdWords is so cost efficient is that it enables advertisers to focus their ads on their target market through the use of keywords. Users viewing these ads have already indicated an interest in a relevant topic pertaining to the ad and, therefore, pertaining to the service, product, and/or business the ad is portraying. For example, when a user enters a query into Google Search, such as ‘buy refrigerator’, only relevant information pertaining to that phrase will be displayed. The user has expressed an interest in purchasing a refrigerator and is actively searching for what businesses have to offer through targeted and focused advertisements.

AdWords Example

One doesn’t need to be concerned with costs when using Google AdWords because they provide the option to prepay in addition to other methods that give you control over the amount you want to spend. The advantage lies in the pricing model used, called performance-based advertising, where the advertiser only pays for measurable results. This mainly consists of cost-per-click, where you pay only when a user clicks on your ads for a price that you can put a cap on, and cost-per-thousand impressions, where you are charged per one thousand impressions (impressions are the number of times an ad is shown to a user). Plus, advertisers set a daily budget which is used to control expenses because Google will never charge the advertiser more than the specified budget.

In short, Google AdWords is an incredibly quick and easy way to jump to the top of the search results but it is also incredibly difficult to master. This platform enables you to reach an unbelievable amount of people on any scale around the world while giving you the power to target new, relevant users who are interested in what you have to offer, all at a budget you are comfortable with. If you would like help harnessing this amazing resource, we invite you to consult Cascade e-Commerce Solutions Inc. As a Google Certified Partner, we are more than capable of assisting you with this matter. For more information regarding setting up AdWords for your company or for examples of how AdWords has impacted small businesses in the area, please feel free to email CeSI at info@4cesi.com.

Helpful Links

Marketing and Advertising Using Google

Performance Based Advertising

Running Ads On Google

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A Whale of a Review – If You Value Reputation, You Will Want to Understand Online Reviews

Mayas Westside Charters

What if the opinion of every customer you have ever had was instantly available for your review? Or, what if everyone, including new potential customers had access to these opinions? Essentially, they do. The increasing importance and proliferation of review sites has made reviews powerful tools for consumers. Reviews could be powerful for a business too, or it could be a pretty scary concept.

Sites like Yelp, Google Reviews and Trip Advisor provide reviews of consumer services like restaurants, hotels and tours. This soapbox for consumers amplifies the footprint of a business’ performance. If a business performs poorly everyone will have that information at their fingertips. However, the opposite is also true. If your business provides a valuable service, this is a way for customers to find you.

For business owners like Captain Jim Maya of Maya’s Westside Charters, these platforms are great. Captain Maya’s success is a shining example of what a good reputation can do for a business. Captain Maya has earned a 96% rating on Trip Advisor from more than 50 reviews. His services earn praise and rave reviews from customers. In turn, new customers seek out Maya’s Westside Charters because of its reputation.

When things are going well it provides a supply of new customers, and simplifies business operations by closely linking success to customer satisfaction. Alternatively, if a business is getting negative responses on review sites it can be very damaging. Many savvy consumers visit review sites to vet a service before they buy. Get too many negative reviews and a business will scare away these savvy consumers.

Although a consumer seeking out reviews is just the tip of the iceberg. The search giant, Google, has taken a liking to reviews. In June 2011, Google reached more than 80% of the search engine market share. With Google’s size and affinity for reviews, it is becoming less and less likely that someone will be able to find a business on the web without getting a glimpse of reviews and consumer feedback.

Popular review sites rank very highly in Google, meaning content on these sites that is related to a business will likely be included in search results, maybe even more prominently than the business itself.

You also won’t be able to get directions from Google Maps without catching wind of the business’ reputation. Google displays information from prominent review sites on the business’ Maps listing.

The new Google Related tool is another way that Google incorporates consumer feedback into web browsing. A small toolbar at the bottom of every website pops up which includes what Google has deemed to be the most relevant results. Since Google loves reviews they will put these in the related toolbar. For a business with negative reviews or a bad reputation these opinions will be displayed while visitors browse their site.

With the growing prominence of consumer opinions on the web it is important to take a proactive approach to your business’ reputation. This means monitoring your reputation on a regular basis and actively cultivating a positive reputation online.

Captain Jim Maya is a client of CeSI. In addition to our regular internet marketing services that we provide for him, we do online reputation monitoring. We receive updates whenever something new is published about Maya’s Westside Charters. The most recent updates included: “The Perfect Whale Watching Trip!!!”, “Great whale watching experience!” and “Could not have been better!” It is fun for us to get updates like this and see a client doing well.

If a client were to ever receive a bad review, maybe a fraudulent one from a competitor, then we would catch it early. In this event we would notify the client, contact the review site and let the client know what more they can be doing to correct the problem.

If you want more information regarding how to protect your business’ hard earned image, email kevin@4cesi.com or phone 206-244-9092.

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How to Keep a Website Current so That it Sells

It’s important to keep a website up to date to keep it relevant to the search engines and website visitors. As search engines crawl websites, new content (new files, updated date and time stamps and revised file sizes) prompt the search engine robots to re-index the site’s web pages and this in turn can bolster the search engine ranking positions for the site’s pages . Furthermore, as technology changes website aesthetics go out of style (think digital jean jackets).

Even businesses that are actively involved in online marketing and frequently updating their website eventually need a complete rework. These projects end up being great experiences for the web designers and clients. CeSI recently had the pleasure of working with Federal Way Custom Jewelers to rework their site.

New Site

The company is a locally owned custom jeweler that has been serving the Puget Sound for over 55 years. Back when their old website was implemented, the average computer monitor was significantly smaller and narrower. Originally, with much narrower screens (800 pixels wide) the bright purple background occupied much less of the screen and was hence a more subtle background. Modern screens however are widescreen displays. Even small laptops are 15 inch wide screens that can be 1600 pixels wide and desktop monitors can go upwards of 24 inches. On these newer displays the page content remained the same narrow width and the purple background filled the remaining space. As a result visitors to the old site design that had modern monitors were blasted with a purple background because it took up most of their screen. This rather literal eyesore became a problem. The jeweler’s image was intended to convey elegance, class and taste. Unfortunately a wall of bright purple did not accomplish this.

Old Site

Today their site is completely different. First, the content has been widened to fill modern wide screens. Another improvement was done to the background; they chose a tasteful and more subdued background pattern. Now visitors can focus on the main content. Another thing that was done was applying a bit of a marketing touch to the site. The old site gave the visitors the option to find their own way throughout the site. Today their site is designed to draw visitors to the content that creates revenue. This was done by adding a call to action to each page. Their old site hoped that someone seeing their site would lead them to visit the store. The new version of the site has an appointment form that allows customers to interact with Federal Way Custom Jewelers directly through the website. The result of all these improvements is they now have a site that looks classy and drives sales.

Thinking of how your website could use a face lift? Below are six tips to keep your business website up to date.

  1. Widen the content frame
    Take a page out of Federal Way Custom Jeweler’s book and widen your website content. Screens are getting wider. If your site is designed for monitors that are only 800 pixels wide it might be time to upgrade. Not only does wider content have a newer look, but it allows you to get more page content above the fold.
  2. STOP YELLING
    Flashing red and neon banners do not get anyone to buy anything. The only thing this does is get visitors to close the window faster. Avoid using stop colors. Don’t use all caps. You can draw attention to important aspects of your site with brighter versions of your theme colors and proper link/button placement. The same goes for sounds and videos. If it bothers you on other websites, don’t put it on yours.
  3. Drive Sales
    If you created your website with the intention of making money, you need to remember to keep this the focus. This concept can get lost sometimes. Each page should have the focus of driving sales. If you don’t have this focus already, try adding a call to action to every page. This means that if you sell widgets on your site, you should link to the widget catalog from every page. Use action verbs in this call to action such as “buy” or “purchase”. Try to make the homepage focus on selling those widgets too. Think of it like a virtual billboard. You wouldn’t pay for a billboard that didn’t try to sell.
  4. Add content regularly
    Your website shouldn’t stay completely static. You want to provide reasons for people and search engines to visit and revisit your site. Make sure to keep contact information and any products current. A great tool for keeping websites current is a blog. Try adding a new blog post every few days. Fresh blog content keeps people and search engines coming back to your site. You can even get traffic for new keywords if you include those in your post content and titles.
  5. Check Browser Compatibility
    Internet protocol is constantly updating. If you can’t remember what year you last updated your website design, then it’s a good time to consider this. Taking your site out of tables, an old website build strategy, moving JavaScript or style from the code to separate files, cleaning up the code and verifying that the code is up to international web standards will help improve page load speed and help search engines get right to the content of your page. You can update the site’s code and keep your design or you can update the code and go for a modern look. Updating your website’s code doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. CeSI will often do this for new clients that find their code to be an obstacle.

If you’ve thought your company’s website could lose a few cobwebs consider these tips. These are easy ways to dramatically improve your site. After all, it is a lot easier to change your website than it is to throw away your favorite jean jacket (really, they are perfectly acceptable as pants, why not jackets?).

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Why You’ll Want a Mobile Site if You Plan to Keep Up With the Competition

Smart Service Mobile Site

Mobile sites are a powerful and relatively new tool for businesses. At CeSI we think they are a valuable tool and we are glad to see some of our clients beginning to adopt them.

A typical consumer already has built up a certain amount of interest in your offerings before they ever contact your business. This is sales work that the customer has done for you. If you wait to talk to the customer they might second guess their perceived need, or worse, explore a competitor’s offerings. A mobile site is a great way to expedite interaction with potential customers.

The following theoretical scenario involves one business with a mobile site, and one without:

Steve’s Modern Widgets and Murry’s Old Fashion Widgets. Both businesses sell the same thing. In fact Murry’s Old Fashion Widgets even has a website ( it hasn’t been updated since 1802 ). Some consumer out there, let’s name him Lotzi Monet (he’s a rich descendant of a famous French painter) is in his limo and gets to thinking that his business could use some new widgets. Instead of sitting idly by, he hops on his smart phone and starts checking out widgets online. He checks out Murry’s site first, but Murry doesn’t have a mobile site. Lotzi becomes impatient attempting to navigate a standard site on his mobile phone and tries Steve’s Modern Widgets instead.

“Success!”, Lotzi Monet declares. He has been redirected to Steve’s mobile site. Rather than go home and get online to buy widgets later, Lotzi takes out his oversized wallet to get his credit card nmber and buys his new widgets right then and there.

With the widespread adoption of mobile phones, businesses can react faster to consumers and make sales where they never could before.

However, mobile content is a new and slightly different medium. CeSI has a few tips to help with this new challenge.

  1. Keep it simple. You have limited space; don’t try to do too much. Very few people can paint a masterpiece on a 2” x 3” canvas. Adjust your goals accordingly. Think plainly with utility in mind. Put yourself in the customers’ shoes and try to imagine three or four things that a customer would most want from your site. Make these few objectives the goals for your mobile site.
  2. Focus on a call to action. One thing that should remain unchanged is the focus on a call to action. You can cut out almost everything in an attempt to simplify your mobile site, however leave the call to action on the site. You have a website because you want to make sales, and you are getting a mobile site because you want more sales. Try to steer your visitors towards making a purchase.
  3. Adjust the window size automatically. Mobile devices come in all shapes and sizes. Unlike a typical website that will appear on wider screen sizes, a mobile site needs to work for both narrow and wide screen sizes. Your customers may be browsing on something that is 2”x 2” or they may have a tablet screen almost as big as a laptop. Your site needs to work for both. This means buttons, and windows that scale. You don’t want the iPad user squinting or the iPhone user pulling out a magnifying glass.
  4. Include a button to the full site. Your average mobile visitor will find what they need on your nifty mobile site. However, you don’t want to restrict them. Include a prominent link that will take them to your standard site. This ensures that anything they can’t find on your mobile site is accessible regardless.

CeSI recently implemented a mobile site for Smart-Service, an independent Subaru auto repair company. Historically, Smart Service has been early to adopt new Internet marketing strategies. The company has made great use of their blog and as a result has built a reputation online as an expert in their field. Their success prompted us to recommend starting a blog to other clients.  A well run blog can enhance a business’ reputation and boost the business’ presence in search engines. Smart Service was ahead of the crowd with online maps as well. Before every site had Google Maps they had custom maps to accompany the directions on their site. Today we recommend that every client, capable of doing so, claim their online maps listings in Google, Bing and Yahoo. Smart Serivce was also one of our first clients to have us implement the Facebook “like button” on key pages of their website.  We are happy to help other businesses implement similar strategies to market their products and services.  Please feel free to email us at elizabeth@4cesi.com to request more information or phone 206-244-9092.  We’d be happy to help your business get more from its Internet marketing.

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Advice from One of the Young Unemployed

While every generation has suffered through this recession, my generation, 25-35 year olds, has been hit unexpectedly hard by this economy.  In 2007 and 2008, when the job market was quite good, I was in graduate school.  But by the time my friends and I had finished, the economy tanked and jobs in our market niches began disappearing.

Applying for JobsAs a result since graduating with a Masters in Public Health I have taken short term contract jobs, jobs that were outside my target career goals and jobs that had highly irregular hours.

Most recently on February 9, 2011 I was laid off from the last of these irregular jobs.  Since that date, I have applied for nearly 75 jobs and only one of these applications has resulted in a request to schedule an interview, but after being rescheduled twice, even this interview was ultimately canceled when the hiring organization phoned to say they’d already hired another candidate. This stung because although I prepared repeatedly for an interview, I never received a chance to explain my passion for the position.

I struggle with frustration, let downs, and feelings of self-doubt at least once a week.  While I have strong international and domestic work experience, educational credentials and references and a desire to be a working citizen, I am concerned that I am over qualified by education but under qualified by age and long-term experience.

However, just last week, I found some encouragement when I realized that every time I receive a “no thank you” at least one other person may have received a “YES, PLEASE!”

Although my search for a job these last few months has not yet been fruitful I have garnered some knowledge that I think will help both those looking for work and those looking for workers.

For those looking for work:

  1. Be flexible.  I have been applying for everything from medical assistant positions, to public health, to social services, to event planner for local community groups.  Though my resume shows mostly health related jobs, I know that I could excel in any field with my writing, research, project management, and customer service skills.
  2. Whistle while you wait. Make the most of your free time. Get the exercise in that you never had time to do before.  Read that pile of books by the bed.  Explore your neighborhood like you’d planned when you moved in.  Bake homemade bread, organize your pantry! You have the time you always wished you had! No matter when my unemployment ends, I want to look back on this season of life and be proud of the work I accomplished even without “work”.
  3. Build connections. Tell others you’re looking for work. I applied for my dream job this week because an old coworker in South Africa saw my online posting about looking for work. Another friend called today and had personally set me up for a phone call tonight regarding a great opening!

For those looking for workers:

  1. Be open to a candidate who is willing to change careers.  Just because a candidate has worked and trained in a different industry or position doesn’t mean he/she isn’t the perfect candidate for your position.  For example, although I have worked mainly in the healthcare field, I can create print and online marketing materials, manage others, sell and fundraise in any field because these skills are highly transferrable.  Reading an application and considering an intriguing but not shoe-in candidate for an interview is an extension of major grace and also may land you the perfect employee!
  2. Make sure your application process allows candidates to clarify their skills and experience.  Many online processes do not allow candidates to submit a cover letter or resume and have text form fields that are too short to provide the details that can help distinguish one candidate from another.  For example, while I have a biology and a public health degree, for some jobs it may be very helpful for the hiring manager to know that I can plan, host and cook for events, organize an office or pantry, and engage both shy and gregarious people in meaningful dialogue.
  3. Let candidates know you have received their applications and update candidates when they do or do not get an interview or the position.  In the world of online and electronic applications, many companies never give you word that they have received your application.  The more respectful you are even when you don’t hire candidates, the more likely those candidates will be to reapply for other positions in your organization.

In closing, while neither those who are looking for work nor those looking to hire can change the economy on a global scale, each of us has the opportunity to treat one another with respect and to make a difference on the local level.

By the way, if you know of anyone who has an open position in the Greater Seattle area, let me know, jen@northwestgoldcoast.com.

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How to Sell Without Selling

SalespersonSelling a service is different from selling a product. Selling a service involves making more of a human connection and a commitment because what you are selling is more than an object. Selling a service, even when selling installation of a product, includes understanding the customer and selling the personality, knowledge, and skills of those who will be providing the service.

Effectively selling a service includes giving very honest, helpful and free advice. While strong, pushy and forward sales tactics can work to sell a product, this tactic usually won’t work when selling a service and most certainly will prevent a sale from moving into a long term ongoing service relationship. If your business sells a service, a different approach is critical.

In fact, it is possible to stand out and even win over a customer because you approach a service sale differently, the right way. One business that sells differently is Ethos Windows and Doors. Bill White, the founder of Ethos, saw things could be done a lot better. He left employment of one large service provider to start his own window and door company so that he could be free to sell through relationship building rather than high pressure sales. He knew by taking a better approach to communicating with potential customers, understanding what their needs are and then backing this up with excellent service delivery, he could make the whole experience much more pleasant for customers and fill a void left by others in the industry.

Take a hint from Bill’s success and adopt better sales practices in your business. Here are a few things you can do to make your sales team a little less abrasive and with any luck get a few more sales:

1. When someone makes a statement that would move towards ending the conversation let it go. Either they have made up their mind and simply don’t want to have to say “no”, or they really do need to think about all the information you have already given them. If the latter is true you can often do more harm than good by getting a bit pushy and aggressive. If you have brochures or informative materials, giving these to the prospect and then making a timely exit can the best next step. The brochure you leave with them will put your best foot forward, give them the time and space they need and provide them with your contact information for when they make up their mind.

2. Once the customer has expressed that they want to purchase your products or services you can stop selling. Your sales routine will wear on the customer and you only risk moving the sale in the wrong direction. Once they want to buy, focus on completing the transaction. At this point, instead of pushing the benefits of your best energy efficient windows and doors you can ask them for a time to bring out your exterior door installation specialist. Continue to be friendly and answer any questions, but there is no need to keep selling.

3. Instead of trying to be persuasive, try to understand what the customer is looking to get from the transaction. Then you can take an educational approach to your sales. If you focus on what the customer’s needs and you address these needs, you will build credibility as an expert in your field. Once you have demonstrated that you are an expert and recommend the right products and services, you can also be the source for those goods. In the case of Ethos Windows and Doors this means understanding that what the customer really wants is a quick, affordable and professional installation that will offer lasting, measurable energy savings.

Ethos Windows and Doors focuses on treating customers right, understanding their needs and educating them about their options. Rather than a traditional sales approach, Ethos prefers to help prospective customers make informed decisions regarding how to get the most attractive, affordable and best energy efficient windows and doors.

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Sharing Equals Saving Money

Children with piggy bankRemember learning the painful lesson of sharing as a child? One local business is helping other businesses learn to share and saving them money in the process.

You don’t often see businesses apply principle like sharing. However, thanks to Stratus Rack some businesses are sharing with each other and saving handfuls of money in the process. Stratus Rack is helping businesses save money by allowing them to securely share web servers.

Businesses have no interest in sharing superhero toys and candy. Although sharing other things can save money. Stratus Rack uses virtual servers to help share business server hosting and save money. After all, saving money is much more fun than parents making you share your X-Men toys with your sister (she doesn’t even know who Magneto is).

Sharing web servers? Ok, so businesses don’t pool their allowances and go server shopping together, but two or more unrelated businesses often share a server.

How and why? It just makes sense. Hosting centers have impressive large and powerful machines providing dedicated servers. For small and medium sized businesses it doesn’t make sense to pay for what they don’t need. Stratus Rack partitions part of a server for each business. This is kind of like the imaginary line your parents drew down the middle of the car to keep you and your sister from bickering. The difference is with a virtual server you won’t even notice another business and they certainly can’t take your juice box.

A virtual server with Stratus rack is just like having a server to yourself except you don’t have to pay for what you don’t use. You get all the benefits of a dedicated server: a 100% uptime guarantee, low latency and a redundant data center.

Next budget meeting earn a few brownie points and save your company some money by suggesting your business go Dutch on Seattle virtual server hosting.

Stratus Rack LogoFor more information, including pricing and online signup, visit http://www.stratusrack.com/.

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10 Ways to Know When to Update Your Website

Web Redesign

You know it’s time to remake your company’s website when…

  1. A first-time visitor says, “Ahh, I see your website is from the Early Web Period.”
  2. Only your mother can find it.
  3. A new customer comes to your store, sits down and cries, “It didn’t look like this on the web!”
  4. Your staff informs you that the website just sold something you haven’t got.
  5. Your web master has disappeared and no one else can figure out how to make anything work.
  6. Your sales staff are ashamed to share the web address with anyone.
  7. Customers complain they can’t find what you say is there.
  8. Your logo and other design elements are new millennial and your website is past millennial.
  9. Your web stats show that lots of people are finding the website, but no one’s buying.
  10. A first-time visitor says, “Yuck. I never go beyond those drum beat and swhirly dot pages!”

You know you don’t need a website makeover when …

Your business is working at capacity, income exceeds out go, your customers are happy and your staff have no complaints.

If you’re looking to update your website call us at 206.244.9092 or email info@4cesi.com.

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Remediating Search Engine Rankings

Businesses that developed simple text-dense websites in the early years of the Internet (before 2001) benefited from a phenomenon known as “grandfathering”. If these businesses listed their websites in the major search engines before the engines began charging for inclusion or pay per click, their sites stayed in the search engines for free because the search engines were each trying to compile the biggest, most relevant database.

If the businesses were in well-defined niches, the websites of these businesses had quite high rankings for several phrases related to their business and web-generated business was good!

Drop in Search Engine RankingsThen by mid-1995 many businesses that had had natural search high rankings for several years saw their rankings drop significantly (from first page to 16th page or below). This was because the algorithms (formulas) utilized by the search engines evolved continuously while the websites did not keep up with current international standards.

While each website varies, optimizing an older website to meet current international standards typically involves over a dozen discrete tasks. There is no silver bullet, simply a list of tasks that take about three weeks to complete. These tasks include:

  1. conducting research to identify which phrases will get the most web traffic (highest count of searches to number of competing web pages),
  2. scripting improved text for the search engines and human readers,
  3. eliminating code that slows down search engine robots,
  4. adding structural elements that help people and search engine robots get through the site more quickly, and
  5. deleting any inappropriate strategies that may have been in place prior to optimization.

Businesses that have experienced dropped rankings currently represent about half the new clients for the search engine optimization services provided by Cascade e-Commerce Solutions, Inc. (CeSI). CeSI calls this work “ranking remediation” because it involves working to remedy dropped rankings so that web-generated business levels are restored.

Restoring lost rankings takes less time than securing rankings for sites that are new or have never been well ranked. Businesses that have lost ranking know the value of their search engine position in terms of sales and new customers and so are highly motivated to assist in the process. Short turn around time and high client motivation make ranking remediation an especially fun effort for CeSI.

If your business’ website is in need of ranking remediation, please don’t hesitate to contact Cascade e-Commerce Solutions at 206-244-9092 or info@4cesi.com.

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Business Owner’s Thanksgiving

By Elizabeth Paulsen in the style of Chuck Gallozzi
Corucopia
We are thankful for:

  • Long hours because even though they’re long, we set them and we are not likely to lay ourselves off.
  • Work stress because it gives us an excuse to reach for the dark chocolate or go work out.
  • Payroll taxes, vacation pay and medical premiums because it means we have employees to help do the work.
  • Tech savvy employees because they prompt us to update our hardware, software and selfware (personal skills and knowledge).
  • The customer who owes us money because it means the project is complete.
  • The customer who tells stories or makes puns, because he makes us laugh.
  • The customer who complains because it means she cares enough about our work to tell us how we can improve.
  • The customer who includes a smiley face on his check and emoticons in his emails because it reminds us we are more than business owners.
  • Commercial loans because they make us less attractive to hostile buyouts.
  • Auditors because they give us critical information and feedback.
  • Business advisors, mentors and strategic business partners because they sharpen us.
  • Business networking groups because they help us refine our elevator speeches.
  • Non-profit organizations because they challenge us to be philanthropic.
  • Our families who say that they like life better as small business owners than when we worked for large corporations.
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20 Ways to Fail at SEO

20 Ways to Keep Search Engines from Listing Your Website in Their Search Results
Person in Shock
In ten years of optimizing websites for the search engines, I’ve often been called in to remedy business websites that have had disastrous results in the search engines. In each case a prior webmaster or search engine optimization (SEO) service provider had employed abusive and/or neglectful strategies. 20 of these abuses and neglectful practices are listed below.

  1. The first thing on the home page is a link to another business’ website.
  2. The website has no original text (all text is copied from other websites).
  3. The website is built in frames which prevent search engine robots from accessing the actual text content.
  4. Important text is built into graphics, Adobe Acrobat PDF files and/or Flash files which search engine robots can’t read.
  5. The web pages include hidden text (text that is in the same color as the web page background color).
  6. The web pages include hidden links (such as links from unseen graphics).
  7. The web pages are built in a dynamic platform and employ a linking strategy that results in endless loops in which the same text content reappears with different web addresses (duplicate content).
  8. Web page names include lots of code language such as “&” (ampersands), “?” (question marks) and “=” (equals signs).
  9. The web pages have no metatags.
  10. The same exact metatags are used on every page in the website.
  11. Keyword phrases are based on guessing what people search for rather than on actual search data.
  12. The website’s text hasn’t been updated in years.
  13. The website’s code doesn’t meet current international standards.
  14. The navigation links are different on every page.
  15. There is no sitemap (page that lists links to all the website’s pages).
  16. The navigation takes visitors forward to lots of dead ends (pdf files and graphics with no navigation links that take people back to the website).
  17. The website includes many links to missing pages and graphics (broken links).
  18. The domain name changed and the webmaster failed to set up proper redirects.
  19. The web language changed and the webmaster failed to set up proper redirects.
  20. A competitor’s website has optimized its website for the business’ name and trademarked names without any challenge to the legality of this action.

In many cases, the business’ leadership didn’t even know that abusive and/or neglectful strategies had been employed.

If you suspect that your business’ website may suffer from inappropriate or outdated strategies, please feel free to contact me at info@4cesi.com or 206-244-9092.

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Small Business Indicators

ChartIs your business improving?

While some business owners look to their financials to determine whether their business is doing better, many small business owners also look to the following indicators. They know business is better when:

1. Management isn’t panicked when some high maintenance customers go elsewhere.
2. Management begins to test new services and markets.
3. Pay raises and/or year-end bonuses are extended to staff.
4. More staff is hired.
5. Equipment and facilities are upgraded.
6. Logo, business cards, website and other marketing materials are updated.
7. The business supports a fundraising event.
8. The business sponsors a youth sports team.
9. The owner takes a vacation for the first time in years.
10. Some tasks are done “just for fun”.

Furthermore, the truly wise business owner will engage in the above activities even before business is really better. This is because the wise business owner knows from experience that acting on the belief that something is better actually helps things move in the direction of getting better, just as priming a pump helps the water to flow more quickly and steadily.

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